Revealing the Monster: the ‘IT’ Movie Marketing Campaign

Sol Rivero
6 min readSep 9, 2017

As I stated in a previous article, advertising horror movies is not an easy task. Show too much, and you run the risk of playing your cards too early. Show too little, and you might not spike the interest of your audience. Not to mention the additional obstacle when your film has to live up to preexisting material as well.

Andy Muschietti’s new adaptation of Stephen King’s novel had to deal with these hurdles from the very start.

On one hand, the success of the film relied heavily on nailing its big baddie. On the other, it also had to overcome the deep-set nostalgia for the 1990’s miniseries –the previous adaptation of the same novel- and Tim Curry’s signature portrayal of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown.

So how to solve it successfully?

Unveiling the Monster: Nostalgia and Tone

When it comes to reimaginings, readaptations, remakes and reboots, nostalgia acts as both a burden and a boost. The movie marketing campaign surrounding the film has to deal with an ingrained responsibility to the preexisting material, a fanbase –whether large or small- that must be appeased, and showing a promising vision that can justify the new movie’s existence.

Franchises like Star Wars have managed to succeed in using nostalgia in their favor. It’s a task that not many horror movies have been able to accomplish, as the genre itself has an unsavory reputation of releasing mediocre prequels, sequels and the like.

So what could the studio do to make IT the new horror sensation?

The movie marketing campaign started by trying to rub off the stain of its problematic beginning. Cast and crew satisfied the audience’s curiosity by filling their social media accounts with sneak peeks, concept art, and most importantly: instantly recognizable imagery, like the infamous red balloon.

However, our first official look was anything but vague. Instead of a mere hint at Pennywise, the studio decided to reveal the Monster from the start with a full body image.

The photo produced an instant, although extremely divisive impact. The cartoonish and otherworldly look of the character received a mostly lukewarm reaction, and comparisons with Curry’s version surfaced straightaway.

It was clear that nostalgia would play in favor of the 1990 miniseries, for as flawed as it was, it’s also rooted in the collective imagination of the audience. So what could they do? As it turns out, the movie marketing campaign had to focus on the tone as the main distinction between the two approaches.

As seen in the materials that have been released after the first official look, this new adaptation aims to be darker and far more brutal than its predecessor. With an R rating, the film had to show us that this new version of Pennywise was capable of standing on its own. And while the unkempt and dark look of the character in the picture was enough to hint at a very different interpretation, the general consensus was that it had to be seen in action before a ruling could be made.

The first teaser trailer satisfied this need with a last terrifying scene that shows a demonic Pennywise launching towards Bill. It was all we needed to realize that this was not the playful clown from the 90s.

The teaser also focused on the atmosphere and tone of the movie. Through fast-paced cuts and a soundtrack composed of unsettling and reiterating sounds as a callback to classic horror, it became an instant hit and it cemented the general trust on the new Pennywise.

Now, two questions remained unanswered. Firstly, the dynamic between the kids, the other selling point of IT, was still up in the air. And, on the other hand, it had yet to be seen if Pennywise’s voice was a strong as the character’s appearance and performance.

The next teaser, a ‘first look’, answered the first of those dilemmas by focusing in the more coming-of-age aspect of the story. It gave us a first taste of the kids’ interactions, through a few seconds of Ed, Stan, Richie and Bill talking as they investigate in the sewers.

The last element of Pennywise’s identity, his voice, was finally revealed about two months later with the official trailer. By then, the excitement for the film had reached its peak, and the new images and sounds seemed to reinforce IT’s path to its current box office success.

The full trailer reveals only a hint of the villain’s voice, an aspect that would be further explored through the VR experience and a full clip which accompanied the theatrical release of Annabelle: Creation.

It’s interesting to notice that although many TV spots have come out in the weeks previous to the film’s premiere, and the marketing campaign has opted for ‘revealing’ instead of ‘hiding’ the monster, it can’t be accused of showing too much. Thus, IT’s advertising is a remarkable exception to my rule of never showing the menace in the promotional material.

The marketing team understood that although they need to show the monster, it didn’t necessarily mean that everything about it should be unveiled. Aspects of Pennywise, like some of It’s alternative forms, have remained concealed. Also, main points of the plot have been kept from the viewers. To the uninitiated, IT is a horror movie with a murdering clown. Only those familiar with the original story know that there’s much more to the tale, and how little has been revealed.

Experience the Horror

Another interesting aspect of IT’s advertising is the use of experiential marketing. Like I’ve mentioned in my article about horror movie marketing, activations work well with this genre, as horror is something that needs to be experienced to actually be effective.

The marketing campaign for IT has used a few fun and contained tactics that have taken the horror to the audience. For example, at Comic-Con the movie offered the first glimpse at Pennywise’s lair through a VR experience that was later made available online. It was also the first time we saw actors dressed up as Georgie with the yellow raincoat and a red balloon -this would become the most iconic element of the next activations.

Later on, the studio also set up “the IT experience” at Hollywood. It entailed a reconstruction of the famous Neibolt House, where guests were invited to take a look at exclusive images from the film, while also enjoying a few good scares.

Mannequins dressed up as Georgie and red balloons attached to sewer drains have also been some of the offline tactics used to promote the movie.

The experiential marketing campaign for IT has succeeded in both creating buzz around the film, and also taking advantage of certain aspects of the story itself. The Georgie mannequins, for example, were used to stimulate a contest for tickets, while also reproducing Bill’s journey to find his missing brother –a slight change to the original story, where Georgie’s body is found from the start.

IT’s experiential marketing campaign responds well to the juvenile aspect of this first chapter of the story. People are placed in the position of children who are perusing, uncovering mysteries and participating in a chilling sort of scavenger hunt. In a way, each experience seems to help spread Pennywise’s reach from Derry to the rest of the world.

The strategy provides a good template for similar horror movies that can take advantage of day-to-day elements –e.g.: the sewer drains- to expand the horror with evocative images. It’s an enticing promise: that the horror is not only on the screen, but could reach anyone at any time.

What the IT Movie Marketing Campaign got right

Turning the tide from the poorly received first image of Pennywise, to becoming one of the most watched trailers and one of the most commercially successful horror movies of recent years, is a commendable achievement. Especially with a cast and crew made of mostly unknowns.

The IT marketing campaign had to work with and against the nostalgia by being as forward as possible about the tone, and using every opportunity at its advantage. From the great cast dynamic, to the new turns and changes that might surprise even those familiar with the story.

The advertising also had a great grasp on what should be shown and what should remain hidden. All without having to trick the audience. For, if reviews are to be believed, the duplicitous tone and the generally dim aesthetic prevalent in the marketing campaign, are also present in the film itself. If anything, more is to be expected, as so little was divulged.

Balance, creativity and an intelligent approach to nostalgia, have defined the strategy. And if the numbers are any indication, it has been done successfully.

All we are left to wonder is: what novelties can we expect in the strategy for Chapter Two?



Sol Rivero

Film Graduate. Social Media Marketer. Content Writer. Overall crazy person.